There is a side of me that would love to just leave the cell phone at home, turned off, never to be used until I return from traveling. That would be the dumb side of me. The smart side says to bring along a phone if for no other reason than for personal safety in a foreign land. Beyond that, a variety of travel apps could help navigate the worlds I might visit, provide all the information of a guide book and help me make friends in my new surroundings. But having those capabilities and doing something useful with them are often two very different animals.
One no-brainer use for just about any brand of smart phone is taking pictures. Duh. Remembering to use this device to your advantage will take integrating it into what you do and the way you approach travel.
For example, these are some must-do photo opportunities
- Take a photo of your hotel– Before going on a walk or cab ride, take a photo of your hotel including any signage that indicates were it is and its name. If in a foreign land where you do not speak the language, this is really important. In Venice I walked around for hours with a note written by the front desk bellman at our hotel that said “This American needs a plug adapter” as I tried to find power conversion adapters for my American plugs in a country where they don’t work. Looking back, I think I would also have taken a shot of that renegade American plug that won’t work if for no other reason that to amuse the natives.
- Take a photo of where you parked- This one is really good for at home too. If just a level of the parking lot or slot number of where you parked does not trigger instant recall of where the car is, shoot photos of other landmarks on the way like elevator buttons pushed to get inside the terminal so you can reverse steps later. At Disney World we take a photo of our car in Goofy Row 123. Seems like we would remember that but by the end of the day characters sort of run together to where I ask “Where were we parked? The Fred Flintstone lot?” Extra tip: Text that photo to someone you arrived with so they have it too in case something happened to you along the way.
- Photograph your checked luggage- Make it part of packing to follow this plan: Pack/unpack/photograph everything in the bag/repack/photograph all packed/photograph outside of bag. Do this on every piece of checked luggage in addition to tagging it inside and outside with your contact information both at home and at your destination. Best bet on outside tagging: Covered tags that do not easily show your contact information to casual observers (crooks).
- Don’t forget the juice. Odds are you will need power where power is not available on your travels at one point or another. Backup power sources like Duracell’s Powerhouse Charger that provides up to 60 hours of charge time are a good bet.
- Take a photo of your room number– This is good for finding your way back in unfamiliar surroundings/stumbling back after a night at a bar. If getting to and from that room to the hotel/cruise ship lobby takes more than 3 or 4 directions, you might consider making a movie of the walk with audio directions. This is one you might never use but if in a situation where you needed it, you would be a hero for thinking of it.
- Take a photo of new people you meet- This is great for people who can’t remember names (me) very well but never forget a face. The trick is to somehow get that person’s name on that photo. I keep an email or text window open to insert my new friend’s photo in along with their name for sure and maybe where I met them. Be sure location tracking is turned on so you know what country they are from too.
- Make sure you have the right plan for what you are doing- Cell phone service providers have a number of plans available, most of which can be added before you travel someplace where you need it and then taken back off after you return home. That’s a good idea and one worthy of a phone call to your service provider. I say “phone call” rather than suggesting going to their website to add on a package because you want that package to be the best value. Calling the service provider should get you that and a note on your account that you called. That’s important for later if something goes wrong and you have to call back with a problem. That note says “Hey, I called in and asked what the best option for me was. I did that. Now please have mercy on me because I didn’t pay attention/ignored warnings/did not follow the plan and wound up with a bill $500 higher than normal”. If you’d like to check e-mail, view maps or update Facebook with the iPhone, you should probably consider an international data plan.
- Prepare your phone for travel. Regardless of the phone brand, using 3 or 4G service is way more taxing on your phone than using WiFi. This will potentially save tons of money, since data roaming can be really expensive. Turn off automatic updates and reset your usage statistics so you can track how close you are to your limit too. If in doubt, choose “airplane mode” to disable pretty much anything that might come back to bite you later when your next cell service bill arrives.
- Take a photo of your passport, credit cards, other identification and travel documents. It may not be able to capture a perfect image of these important documents but having a digital backup of them might make a difference proving who you are if your hard copies of this stuff are lost or stolen. Email or text that information to your emergency contact person at home (the person you told the cruise line to call if the ship sinks) and to a traveling companion.
- Load up on the apps. Before you travel, make sure all the apps you have are updated as well as your phone’s software. It’s not a bad idea to have backup apps for things you use frequently. Twitter comes to mind here and I have every app available that does Twitter. I learned this the hard way on our #FollowMeAtSea Twitter press trip last year. When asked “What app are you using to tweet with?” my answer, deep in the Alaska wilderness, was “Any one that works!” .
Once you leave the warm and fuzzy happy world of your home internet service provider, strange things start to happen. The most obvious is slower service or no service at all. The next reality check comes when you try to shake hands with that new service who may or may not be into meeting new people. Odd things happen in lands other than your own and having the ability to maximize connection time you do get is critical.
On our recent trip to Italy on Carnival Cruise Lines new Carnival Magic I had taken along a AAA Guidebook to Europe. I did not open that book once for any information. I did, however, use 20-some different travel apps, some successfully, others not so much. My phone and our MacBook Pro computers worked pretty well in Italy, Croatia and Spain but not exactly like normal. I had to wait until we got back home for everything return to normal but it did. Eventually.